See how they conceive evil,
and are pregnant with mischief,
and bring forth lies.
But when he came to himself … Luke 15:17
Director Cate Shortland’s and the documentary film No Place on Earth should be seen, if at all possible, to gether, each of them focusing on the effects of the Jewish Holocaust, but from opposite ends of the spectrum.
(Though in different theaters, I saw them on the same day, making each all the more effective)
Lore, named after the oldest daughter of a Nazi family, is the story of what happened to the five children of unrepentant Nazi parents, forced to abandon them as they try to flee the victorious Americans who will undoubtedly arrest them for war crimes, the father being a member of the S.S. The film opens with the parents burning sheaves of incriminating documents and the father even shooting the family dog rather than leaving it to fend for itself.
Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) is instructed by her mother, as she gives her oldest daughter the family jewelry and silver, to seek out their grandmother (yes, you could see this as a Little Red Riding Hood tale, with the wolf transformed into the human predators they encounter). She lives in Hamburg, a 500 mile-long trek from their home in the Black Forest, and Germany is newly divided into 4 occupied zones, one of them controlled by the Russians.
And so with her young sister, twin brothers, and infant brother she sets out on the dangerous journey. Filled with her parents’ anti-Semitic venom, Lore has to rely on the help of a slightly older young man named Thomas (Kai Malina) who carries an ID with a yellow star. At first she keeps him at a distance, so he follows them, much like a stray dog that has attached itself to a human. In a couple of incidents he comes to her aid, most notable when Allied soldiers demand to see her papers and. Showing them his papers containing a yellow star, he tells them they are a family recently released from a concentration camp. Despite his good intentions, Lore is contemptuous of their benefactor, ordering him never to touch her siblings. There is at the same time an underlying sexual tension between them: she might still be wearing the dress of a child, but her body is at the threshold of womanhood.
The film, much of it shot in close-ups with a hand-held camera, on the surface is a quest/survival film, but soon develops into a transformation story, at least for Lore. Determined at first to hold to her instilled beliefs, this is a “coming to” tale (as in Luke 15:17), as well as another Holocaust story. In one sequence she and some other Germans are forced by soldiers to look at photographs of concentration camp victims, confirming what she has heard but wants not to believe, that her beloved Fuhrer has committed genocide Told without any warm fuzzy sentimentality, the film shows that the Holocaust genre can still be approached from a fresh vantage point. At the conclusion, despite her pro-Nazi grandmother, we sense that there is hope for this young woman to emerge from the darkness of her family legacy. Director Cate Shortland, working with co-writer Robin Mukhurjee to adapt a story in Rachel Seifert’s 2001 novel The Dark Room, has gifted us with a film that I hope will find a larger audience once it s released on DVD/streaming video.
1. If you watch and discuss this film with a group, you might play the famous song from I South Pacific “You’ve Got to Be Taught.” From what you know of the history of the Third Reich, what must Lore and her siblings been put through in regards to Jews?
2. Some have said that the line in Rogers and Hammerstein’s song “you have to be carefully, carefully taught” is not quite right in our society, that instead of being “taught,” racism is “caught,” some saying that in the past we took it in with our “mother’s milk.” What has been your experience?
3. How is meeting a member of the despised group upsetting for Lore? Is this why racist adults always try to prevent their children from having contact with those deemed inferior?
4. What gives you hope that Lore might break free of her past?
5. What in our faith can help to set us free from racism? Some have charged Americans with unquestioningly supporting the invasion of Iraq resulting in the deaths not just of the almost 4500 coalition soldiers but far in excess of 100,000 civilian deaths (See the Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Iraq_War on the wildly varying estimates.) Compare this support with that of Lore’s family loyalty to their government and its policies. (Remember what happened to the Dixie Chicks and Michael Moore Though fortunately the consequences in denouncing the American invasion were not as great as those for resisting the Nazis, how is the basic principle the same?)
6. Where do you see grace—or God—operating in the story?